I fell in love with the mission of Medlife after being heavily involved in our chapter at the University of Southern California throughout my college career. I attended my first clinic in Tena, Ecuador in August 2011, and then traveled to Lima twice before deciding to apply for the internship during my senior year. Everyone I encountered in Medlife, whether it be staff, interns, doctors, or community leaders, was so passionate about the work Medlife does and about making a sustainable difference in the communities Medlife serves. It was an approach to health and wellbeing that I found inspiring–not only does Medlife provide treatment for sickness and disease, but they focus on educating and empowering their patients to fight the underlying causes behind disease. This includes providing workshops on topics such as eating well to prevent high blood pressure and type II diabetes, sexual health and safe sex practices, and even helping community members start their own business or gain legal possession over their land so they may live more comfortably with their families.
After seeing the passion and dedication behind the work that Medlife does, I knew I wanted to get involved beyond participating in a week-long mobile clinic, and I was thrilled to accept the position to work as a year-long intern here in Lima, Peru. In addition to being able to dedicate myself full-time for a whole year to Medlife’s cause, I would get to live abroad in a Spanish-speaking country for a year to work on my Spanish, experience a new culture, try new foods, and see new places–a prospect which was exciting after growing up in Leawood, Kansas and not being able to study abroad during college because of my pre-medical curriculum.
An overnight flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, an 11-hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, and another 6 hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Lima led me to my welcome at the Lima airport by two Peruvian friends I made the last time I was in Lima. It was around 10 pm and having not been given food on the flight from Florida, I was starving, so we dropped my things off at my friends’ apartment and went to TGI Fridays for my first meal in Peru. I chose a buffalo chicken pasta, knowing that I would spend the rest of the year eating all different types of Peruvian foods. I did find it interesting, however, that the menu had a special section dedicated to uniquely Peruvian dishes such as tallarines verdes con lomo and lomo con pasta a la huancaÃna, two Peruvian pasta dishes.
The next night was my friend’s mother’s birthday, so we took a cab from Miraflores, one of the 43 districts of Lima that borders the ocean, to Chorrillos, a district a bit further south, for her birthday party. I met uncles, aunts, brothers, and nieces, and enjoyed the lively dynamic of joking, eating, and dancing to Peruvian music until two in the morning–a much more boisterous evening than the quiet family birthday dinners I was accustomed to in Kansas. As we rode in the cab along the coast back to Miraflores, I found it interesting that when looking into the distance at the hills surrounding the city, one would see a similar setting to that of Los Angeles–the ocean on the west, and hills in every other direction speckled with tiny lights. However, once daytime arrives the contrast is stark–whereas in Los Angeles the lights come from upscale homes in the hills surrounding the city, in Lima the lights come from the endless squatter settlements covering every mountaintop surrounding Lima, or the pueblos jovenes.
The next morning, my friend and I went on a walk along the beach, and because I had been in Lima the August before, I was prepared for the reversed seasons and the chilly and rainy weather. Although it was still beautiful, I’m excited to see how much more beautiful it is during the “summer” months when the sun is shining and more people come out to enjoy the beaches of the western coast of Peru.
With that, my time exploring on my own ended, and I began my first day in the Medlife office and moved into the intern apartment that afternoon. It was exciting to speak to the summer interns who had been involved in their school chapters about their experiences with Medlife and our ideas for other chapters in the future, and everybody I met was very kind and welcoming. Once settled in to the intern apartment just next door to the office, I headed out with a fellow intern to have my first “Peruvian” dinner of pollo a la brasa (a quarter of a chicken and french fries for only about $5.70) around the corner, and to take the bus down the congested street to the grocery store (for only about $0.18). I was surprised by how many amenities Lima shares with the United States–Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Starbucks, KFC, Pinkberry–and how affordable the prices were. It will be a challenge now to not eat at the easily-recognizable American chains but to find the smaller Peruvian gems!
Looking forward, I am excited to dive further into the work of Medlife and head out into the field to see what goes on behind-the-scenes of a mobile clinic–finding communities in need of staircase projects, finding patients in need of services beyond those available at a mobile clinic, providing follow-up care to families in the slums, etc. I would like to gain as much knowledge as I can this year about how to provide sustainable care to communities abroad in need so that I may attend medical school next year with new insights to pursue a career in global medicine and non-profit sustainability.